Tuesday, September 25, 2007

This is News?

In the wake of the Associated Press circulating a flawed analysis of the first of the Osama bin Laden video messages released this month, Matt Spetalnick of Reuters has now decided to report on a standard practice as if it were news:

How do you keep a leader as verbally gaffe-prone as U.S. President George W. Bush from making even more slips of the tongue?

When Bush addressed the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday, the White House inadvertently showed exactly how -- with a phonetic pronunciation guide on the teleprompter to get him past troublesome names of countries and world leaders.

However much fun we may wish to make of that "gaffe-prone" behavior and the follow-up efforts at damage control by Dana Perino, this time Ms. Perino's account was right on the money:

Anyone giving a major speech or delivering a broadcast, like on the morning and nightly network news, has phonetics for cues just for the possibility they're needed.

I should know. Some of my happiest student hours at MIT were spent working at the campus radio station (whose call letters were the omen-laden WTBS). While most of my time went into broadcasting classical music, all of us would have to read the news from time to time; and we would generally just pull it off of our UPI wire feed. Since, more often than not, this was a last minute scramble, those phonetic pronunciation cues were a real asset.

Of course they never solved all of our problems. We had one guy who could always be counted upon to provide us with a worst-case scenario. For me his classic moment was when he was reading a story about race relations and Malcolm X and called the protagonist "Malcolm the Tenth!" After that, there were a few jokes about sending a note to UPI recommending that they insert "Malcolm Ex" as a phonetic cue!

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